Naqoyqatsi

Naqoyqatsi completes the cinematic trilogy initiated by director Godfrey Reggio's Koyaanisqatsi (1982) and Powaqqatsi (1988), films that use beautiful, poetically edited imagery to portray a world on the verge of going to hell. Nature collides with technology, ancient cultures meet first-world encroachment, and as science advances, so does humanity's ability to extinguish itself. Reggio's approach is simple: He makes everyday existence seem new and strange by speeding it up, slowing it down, focusing on unnoticed details, or, in his latest film, placing it in a digital collage. His message is even simpler: None of this will do the world any good. Naqoyqatsi takes its name from a Hopi word that can be translated as "war as a way of life," and it opens with an image that encapsulates the film—a digitized version of Pieter Bruegel's Tower Of Babel, fading into a once-grand urban structure that now stands rotting and vacant. What follows alternates between eye-poppingly arresting and eye-rollingly obvious. Goose-stepping Nazis give way to U.S. Army advertisements that lead in turn to images of Albert Einstein. Can mushroom clouds be far behind? Of course not, and at such points, Reggio comes close to turning his film into a highbrow head picture. The trilogy's third installment doesn't always benefit from Reggio's newfound appreciation for digital effects, either. Part of what made Koyaanisqatsi such a revelation was its purely cinematic dependence on unconstructed imagery. Here, he adds a parade of religious, corporate, and political icons, and what's already preachy turns heavy-handed. (Though given that the advertising industry has co-opted so much of Reggio's approach, trying something new probably wasn't such a bad idea.) Then there's the message itself, found in the film's near-apocalyptic vision of a world in chaos, as if the current era were any more chaotic than other historical periods. And yet, briefly, while it's on the screen, Reggio makes his take on the world convincing. Backed again by a fitting Philip Glass score, full of leaping arpeggios and hypnotically repeated themes, the film makes art from the chaos, using technology's cutting edge to advocate a year-zero approach to life. Reggio balances his vision between some staggering contradictions, but that vision is purely his own.

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